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Official HTF Hardware Review: Panasonic DMP-BD50 2.0 Blu-ray Player


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#1 of 8 OFFLINE   Gary Murrell

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Posted September 08 2008 - 03:42 PM

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My System Used For This Review

     Panasonic has always been a personal favorite source component manufacturer of mine all the way back to the early days of DVD. Many people took notice and became fans when they released what was the classic DVD-RP91 SD-DVD player. The player would instantly become a legend for home theater buffs and videophiles alike and why not, with an amazing set of features and nearly perfect PQ. Around 8 years later we are now in the early stages of what is another format, Blu-Ray disc. A much more complicated, albeit higher quality format, that delivers unheard of audio and unseen visuals, once again Panasonic is up to the task and has delivered the goods when it comes to a fully featured player that will please videophiles and casual viewers alike. Panasonic announced the DMP-BD50 as a higher end follow up to the very popular and equally good DMP-BD30, the big addition to the BD50 is that 2.0 profile capability with active ethernet port that enables connection to internet content and allows downloading of firmware online instead of using burnt CD-R's. The Panasonic DMP-BD50 certainly lives up to Panasonics legendary source component status, delivering top of the game audio and visuals.

Please do enjoy the review and comments below and thanks for reading!

BD50 Appearance, Build, Inputs, etc.

     The BD50 comes packaged very well with a lot of foam surrounding the unit, it would literally take a monkey throwing the box for hours to damage the unit, it is always nice to see manufacturers package their products in a good manner, of which some do not. The BD50 has a all black case and build save for a silvery metallic looking strip on the front edge of the top of the unit, I much preferred the BD30's 100% black case, but I can live with this. The front panel has a mirrored finish with two flip down doors, the right contains control buttons, the IR receiver and the FP display. The left panel folds down when the drawer is open and closed. The only two exposed buttons are the power and open/close clickers, these are on the top.

     Be warned, those looking for Denon, Pioneer Elite or Marantz build quality should go elsewhere because they will be sorely disappointed here. The BD50 consists of merely average build quality, not all that sturdy to be honest. Don't get me wrong, we are not talking 75$ junk from Wal-Mart but again not up to decently higher end stuff from even Sony (the Sony BDP-S1 build destroys the BD50 and for near the same retail price). However the point Panasonic tried to make with this unit is that it delivers all that matters on the inside and in that regard there is nothing that will come close in my opinion, so stick the player in your rack, be done with it and enjoy, the build quality is perfectly adequate for the job. The BD50 is a rather thin player in height measuring only 2-5/16".

     Around back of the BD50 there is a fully featured set of input jacks, including: HDMI 1.3, ethernet, optical/coaxial digital audio, 5.1 analog surround outputs, s-video, composite, component video, a C7 style polarized IEC input and a fan. The fan on this unit is nearly impossible to hear in a open room setting, it is basically silent, in a enclosed rack forget it, it isn't even there. I would have like to have seen RS-232 and IR input jacks on the rear along with a full sized grounded IEC power jack but that is just being picky. All in all a very rounded out set of jacks and a no mess front panel layout that is very nice.

BD50 Setup and Calibration

     The first thing you always must do when you get a player is to make sure it is setup properly for your system, so that it will deliver the purest unmolested image and sound possible without processing or other gimmicks. The BD50 allows you to do that to shear perfection and setting the unit up is a breeze. For my evaluation of this unit I used the following setup and outputs: HDMI 1.3 video output at 1080p/24 (for films) and HDMI 1.3 audio output at pure bitstream. I cannot recommend enough that this is how this unit should be used for the ultimate in A/V quality. The 1080p/24 video output via HDMI is the purest cleanest video output signal on the unit, taking 1080p/24 decoded info from the disc and outputting it directly via HDMI. Likewise for the audio, using the HDMI 1.3 audio output, with the unit setup for pure bitstream output, allows you to send undecoded DTS Master, Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital Plus etc. sound formats to a pre-amp/receiver that will decode them. In my comparisons this has always given better sound quality versus sending inside the unit decoded via PCM to a pre-amp/receiver. Other setup features include a power off timer with up to 6 hours time (this can be set to off as well), a screen saver (which for the life of me will not work via HDMI for the BD50 or the previous BD30), remote IR code setting for controlling up to 3 different BD50's in one room, ethernet/BD Live setup (which I won't get into as it might take as much as I write for this entire review LOL!), a slew of HDMI setup options (like RGB/YPbPr setup, enhanced black, resolution, 24p etc.) and the obvious ratings/lock out etc. type settings.

    The BD50 features a true 10-bit 4:2:2 YPbPr 1080p/24 HDMI video output for the ultimate in PQ, this is very important. Most BD players feature a 4:4:4 HDMI video output which is another conversion step that can have degrading effects on the PQ. Blu-Ray discs are encoded as 4:2:0, when this info hits the decoding chip inside the unit it is decoded and the chroma info is doubled or upsampled to 4:2:2. If a player has a 4:4:4 output then there is another conversion step inside the unit taking the 4:2:2 output of the decoder and converting it to 4:4:4. Remember just a second ago when I spoke of the upsampling of the chroma info in the decoder?, this is where the infamous chroma bug comes into play and yes!! this is something we still must deal with on Blu-Ray players. If the decoder inside your BD player has a bug in the upsampling process of turning 4:2:0 into 4:2:2 this causes the chroma bug to creep in. Sadly I have to report that to my eye I am seeing a slight chroma bug problem on the BD50 with Blu-Ray media. I will mention this more later on in my video quality comments. It is a very minor issue due to the much higher chroma resolution with Blu-Ray releases vs SD DVD and is very very hard to spot, it is a problem that will only occasionally bother the most extreme videophiles with large screen setups. Component video output on this unit was not tested for this review.

   It would be my recommendation to set this unit to the user profile "normal" under picture quality adjustments. The BD50 has 4 or 5 PQ profiles that allow the user to adjust the PQ via softening, sharpening, gamma and other tweaks with set soft, cinema, user and a few other picture profiles. These features do nothing but destroy a otherwise fantastic image, so do your self a favor and set the unit to "Normal" under display profile, this delivers a unaltered image.

BD50 Playback and Features

     The BD50 features state of the art playback capability and is a very fast player from startup to loading media, in fact it is the fastest I have ever owned (PS3 is not a dedicated standalone thus I have never owned or tested one as I have no interest in it). I can't see how anyone could find it in themselves to complain about the startup and/or disc loading times of this unit. Even media with BD Java authoring is lightening fast, very quick loading times and very quick java startup times. Menus and chapter changes are very fast as well and have only a slight lag in operation, again the best I have seen a player react so far. As with all BD discs with Java they will not remember your stop position while playing, meaning that if you hit the spot button during playback you are screwed if you expected the disc to start back where you where, only non Java discs will allow this. The BD50 does feature a bookmark feature that allows you to remember your spot if this is a issue to you.

     The BD50 features what I consider to be a pretty nice information display setup on the screen when viewing a film. Hit the display button on the remote and you will be presented with a overlay that gives you all the info you would ever want short of a bitrate display, including what audio and video codec the disc is, a plethora of playback time info, subtitle status and easy changing as well as audio, secondary audio and video status and much more. There is also a indicator that confirms 24p output if you don't use a scaler in your HT system to confirm source output modes and framerates. I am also happy to report that the BD50 supports discrete ON and OFF power codes (along with other functions) for those that use dedicated universal remotes and need this capability (this is a must in my opinion) but I am not surprised as Panasonic has always been very good in this regard. On a similar note for those of you that still have your beloved classic Panny SD DVD units (like the RP91, RP82 etc.) you will be disappointed to find that the BD50 uses the exact same remote codes for most functions, so you will need to find a workaround for that in this rare case.

BD50 Video and Audio Quality

     I can say right off the bat that the BD50 is the cleanest sharpest BD player I have ever owned or reviewed, the video quality is simply amazing. As I mentioned before the BD50 features the best possible HDMI video output that is free from further conversions and processing steps like most other BD players, the 10-bit 4:2:2 YPbPr HDMI output at 1080p/24 is simply spectacular. Discs used for the review where Maximum Risk (look for my HTF review), Mrs. Doubtfire, The Patriot, Fifth Element Remaster, Blood Diamond and a few others. Every title one after another I was reminded of the cleanness and nature image sharpness that the BD50 supplied my system, the image is very clean and very naturally sharp, no added edginess or ringing. Colors after calibration where spot on with not one single issue in color decoding with blue, red or green test patterns, perfect!! Not all sources can hit a home run in this regard, many players that have additional conversion to 4:4:4 colorspace will show slight or moderate color decoding problems that usually show (most often) in green sat/hue test patterns, not the BD50. I could spot no overscan or outer edge image anomalies being my system has zero overscan. Black levels and contrast are perfect as well, no clipping of either (unless the media does). Brightness was close to industry standards and other high-end sources I have, so your brightness control will not require wild adjustments. Y/C delays seem to be nonexistent with the unit at 1080p/24 HDMI. I cannot say enough about the PQ of the BD50, it is as near to perfect as possible save for one small issue, the chroma bug and I must hit on this for a bit. To my discerning eye I am seeing a small bit of chroma problems on the BD50, I do have a very large screen and do sit very close. This is easiest to spot on solid red colors, like the red coat uniforms in "The Patriot" and solid red cars in Mrs. Doubtfire. You can spot a slight amount of noise and splotchiness in these areas, classic chroma bug symptoms. I am very sensitive to the chroma bug and it is a deal killer for me in most cases, however in this case it is not. One major reason is that the chroma bug is much harder to spot on HD media because there is so much more chroma resolution packed into a area versus SD DVD, this causes the bug to go down to near a non issue in itself. I would urge Panasonic to try best as possible to correct this issue with their Uniphier decoder, this issue has been exposed for many years in this business and there is simply no excuse for it in 2008 and on next generation Blu-Ray players and technology. Again I want to stress it's not a deal killer for me because your reviewer is in fact keeping his BD50 review sample, but it is something that needs to be pointed out and corrected down the road.

     There isn't much to say about audio quality of this unit and that is a good thing. The Panasonic BD50 allows the user to set the player where it will pass 100% untouched undecoded audio via HDMI to your pre-amp or receiver. This is the absolute best way possible to listen to and enjoy the advanced audio formats that Blu-Ray offers. The BD50 does feature 5.1 analog outputs and does allow internal decoding of all sound formats to be sent as PCM via HDMI, both these features are something I did not test on my system for this review. Most people will say digital is digital and there is no difference between bitstream and PCM, this is not true for one as decoders (in players or pre-amps) can vary in quality. I have done a lot of comparisons and every time I preferred the sound decoded in my pre-amp versus allowing the player to decode internally and send PCM. Having said all that anyone that needs to decode internally will be 100% pleased with PCM via HDMI. HDMI audio in most cases (in fact all that I have witnessed) leaves analog outputs in the dust, I would presume this to be the case here as well especially due to the low to mid level build quality, HDMI bitstream or PCM is the way to go for sure!!

BD50 SD DVD Video Quality

     As with all Blu-Ray players before it, the BD50 offers HD upconversion of SD-DVD's in a attempt to improve PQ with these lower resolution sources and in most cases the result (on a overall basis) is improved PQ for HD displays. The BD50 uses the Panasonic Uniphier chip for it's decoding, deinterlacing and scaling processes. Upconversion of SD-DVD can be output as 1080p/60, 1080i and 720p. 480p is offered as well, which is just a standard progressive deinterlacing step. I want to make it known that I am still a big proponent of SD-DVD and enjoy it on my system all the time. SD-DVD can be of enjoyable quality with a high-end scaler and a SDI modified DVD player, this gives the ultimate SD-DVD PQ and beats anything out there as far as built in upconversion, so please do realize that I enjoy a very high-end SD-DVD image and take this into consideration when reading my following comments on SD-DVD performance of the BD50. Test discs used for the BD50 where Cape Fear, Star Wars Ep. V, Avia and a few others. I will put it quite simply, the BD50 has decent upconversion PQ, not bad but not good, it is fairly clean but not all that sharp. I didn't notice any color issues or other performance hindrances. Chroma bug is still a issue with SD-DVD as well. I don't have that negative of a opinion on the BD50 upconversion quality, it is not bad, but it is not anything near the SD-DVD image I get from my Yamaha DVD-CX1 with SDI output and DVDO VP50pro scaler nor would it be to higher end players or possibly the Oppo 983.


BD50 Aftermarket Mods

     The BD50 at this time can be fully modified for region free playback of both Blu-Ray and SD-DVD media. The region free mod for this unit offers Blu-Ray playback of releases from all 3 regions A, B and C. With this mod the unit will also output 1080i/50 with concert/documentary/nature releases from BD region B etc. The unit supports all regions and PAL for SD-DVD.

     In addition to the region free mod, the BD50 can also be modified with a high-end HD-SDI output to fed precision set top scaler units like the DVDO Iscan VP50pro and the Crystalio 3800pro. This yields the ultimate best PQ quality possible from the unit, bypassing internal processing, conversions etc. and is 100% free from HDCP like HDMI.

     Both these additions are available from a couple mod dealers online, so ask around about them if interested. For those with very high-end systems that use HD-SDI capable scalers, I would seriously suggest the HD-SDI mod from my personal experience and usage, yes it costs more than 1.5x the unit itself but the resulting PQ is simply amazing to say the least!

Closing Thoughts

     The Panasonic BD50 is the best Blu-Ray player to date in my opinion. It features the best video quality possible albeit a slight chroma bug problem and pure HDMI 1.3 bitstream transmission of all advanced sound formats. The unit features BD Live 2.0 profile capability with SD card slot for those interested in the latest special feature capabilities and has lightening fast startup/load times (including BD Java). Other pluses include: decent SD DVD playback upconversion, a plethora of outputs to meet any system, a rather small physical stance and a very decent price (I have seen streets for less than 450$). I cannot imagine anyone being disappointed with this player in anyway, I recommend it fully and this review unit is staying in my home.

Special thanks to Ron Epstein and Adam Gregorich!!



#2 of 8 OFFLINE   Bob_L

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Posted September 08 2008 - 04:28 PM

A thorough job, Gary. I know you swap hardware in and out of your system all the time, so one thing I do miss in your review is direct performance (rather than build) comparison with some of the other BD players you've used.

#3 of 8 OFFLINE   JustinCleveland

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Posted September 18 2008 - 05:53 AM

I echo Gary's sentiments. I picked up this player a couple months ago from Circuit City. I was expecting a big step up from the Panasonic BD-10A that I got from the HTF/EMA deal last year, but not expecting it to outshine an admittedly wonderful player this much. It boots quickly, loads quickly, and performs admirably. It even interacts well with the Logitech remote software, a problem I had with the BD-10.

If you can find one--I got mine during a very short window when Circuit City had them in stock in the warehouse, had to get it e-shipped home--then you should get one. If Panasonic gets off their collective butts to get the BD-35 or BD-55 into production, they should make them available in stores so this format can have an example of excellence.

#4 of 8 OFFLINE   Michael Osadciw

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Posted September 22 2008 - 09:39 AM

Hi Gary

Thanks for the review. Question though: are you saying in "Normal" picture mode the white level isn't clipped? I've done a few calibrations that included BD-30s, and in normal mode the white level was clipped (second brightest gray step same as brighest). Putting it to user mode and bringing the contrast down to -1 or -2 yeilded whites that were not so hot.

Mike

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#5 of 8 OFFLINE   Jari K

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Posted September 24 2008 - 02:58 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by JustinCleveland
It boots quickly, loads quickly...

Can´t say that I fully agree with this one..

#6 of 8 OFFLINE   JustinCleveland

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Posted September 25 2008 - 07:40 AM

Granted it isn't as fast as the PS3, but it is the fastest I've used. That includes the original BD-10 (which took several minutes to get a movie to play) and the 350 from Sony, the Samsung BD-1500, and the LG Super Drive dual-format player. But considering the trade-offs (the BD-50 is whisper-quiet whereas my PS3 sounds like a hair dryer) I am willing to sacrifice 30 seconds.

#7 of 8 OFFLINE   Gary Murrell

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Posted November 27 2008 - 05:56 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Michael Osadciw
Hi Gary

Thanks for the review. Question though: are you saying in "Normal" picture mode the white level isn't clipped? I've done a few calibrations that included BD-30s, and in normal mode the white level was clipped (second brightest gray step same as brighest). Putting it to user mode and bringing the contrast down to -1 or -2 yeilded whites that were not so hot.

Mike

Mike, with the BD50 set to 1080p/24 HDMI output in 4:2:2 feeding the DVDO VP50pro the unit had perfect white levels in my system, all the way out as far as the test patterns went, my output from the VP50pro scaler was 1080p/60 4:2:2

this kind of thing(black and white levels) is so subjective, one system shows what you are seeing, another is perfect, I think a scaler is a stabilizing force is getting rid of these type of problems

thanks

-Gary

#8 of 8 OFFLINE   Gary Murrell

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Posted November 27 2008 - 05:59 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob_L
A thorough job, Gary. I know you swap hardware in and out of your system all the time, so one thing I do miss in your review is direct performance (rather than build) comparison with some of the other BD players you've used.

sorry about that missing info you wanted to see

Bob, the BD50 had up until the time of the review been the best BD PQ I had seen at direct 1080p/24, the Pioneer Elite 05FD(review just posted) is actually even better and is now my top pick of what I have personally seen

-Gary